How is to be a Freelancer

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On one hot day summer day of 2016 I got up at 6am to get three children who did not belong to me ready for school. As their part-time nanny, I braided their hair and made their lunch and delivered them to two different central London locations by the time the bell went. Then, I went to a local café to write my weekly dating column for a national magazine, before meeting my book PR at the BBC to record 12 local radio interviews.

By early afternoon I was back at the school gates with a drink and a snack, ready to take the kids to their swimming lesson where we’d meet their mum and I’d go home, ready to Instagram my day to my 20,000 followers and upload a blog post for readers around the world.

If that sounds exhausting, it was. For the first two and a half years I was self-employed, I was the very definition of a “hustler”. I thought it would be a couple of hours a day working on my laptop at a coffee shop. It was more like working 15-hour days at 8 different gigs, sort of like a circus performer juggling various live animals.

My portfolio career spanned nannying, journalism, copywriting, teaching, and authoring books – not to mention acting as my own HR department, finance officer, and marketing specialist. Working for myself was a baptism of fire in what it means to compromise, negotiate, and jump in.

I was essentially managed out of my last ever full-time job. The beauty PR company I was with asked me to relocate to Essex, but they knew I wouldn’t leave central London. So I took a chance and left the business – and full-time employment - for good. I’d always wanted to write, and figured I was being given a chance to make a go of it. With only a tiny amount of savings (I was so naïve!), I set about being my own boss.

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It was feast or famine, to begin with – I was so worried I’d fail and need to go and find a “proper” job that I took on way too much, and got burnt out. I didn’t understand how to treat myself like a business with a proper financial year broken down into quarterly fiscal goals. I also thought if I sold a book I’d never have to worry again: again, my inexperience was astounding. Few authors make a living solely from their books. I’m three books in and still managing being published with journalism and public speaking.

Now, it’s more about being smart about having a few different income streams instead of being afraid. I’ve been able to identify key ways to make money and further my brand at the same time, meaning I never have to rely on one paycheck or success to keep me going. If I were asked to name one key tenet of working for yourself it would be that: don’t rely on one client, project, or commission. Sow seeds in a few strategic places. But that’s the keyword: strategic.

Working alone can be lonely, and especially as I finished editing my new novel I ate too many biscuits and didn’t see the outdoors for days at a time. Sometimes I have to turn up the radio and sing loudly to my reflection, just so I know I’ve used my voice that day. Seeing how efficient I am solo doesn’t half make me wonder how much company time I used to waste when I was in an office, though. I was paid to sit in a chair for eight hours a day but only worked four of them. Now I maximize my time working, but also end my day once the work is done.

The upside of working for myself is that I can visit family who lives abroad at the drop of a hat because as long as I’ve got my computer I can meet my deadlines, and although it sounds crazy I also try to work around my menstrual cycle. When I’m on days one and two of my cycle I’m no good to anybody, so I take the extra time off. As long as everything gets done, who cares! I try to go to a Monday morning yoga class because it’s quiet and a great start to the week, but I do also sometimes work through the weekend. The reality is that some months I do 60-hour weeks, and some fewer than 25. 

At the heart of it, self-employment is about freedom for me. I get to decide who I work with, for what rate, and at what time. I don’t need permission for a lie-in or doctor’s appointment. It’s changed my life for the better. It’s made me about more than simply what I do.

I could never go back to being on staff. If I was going to give advice to anyone else wanting to go self-employed, I’d say this: good work isn’t enough. Have three months’ cash in the bank, never call yourself a “freelancer” or self-employed (you’re a business!), and network like your livelihood depends on it - because it does.

It’s worth the steep learning curve to be the captain of your own ship. It’s like they say – you can either make somebody else rich or work for yourself and have a life. I choose the latter.


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